SWANSEA would lose out on a major tourism dividend if a leisure attraction planned at Kilvey Hill did not go ahead, council chiefs said.
Their comments came at a council scrutiny meeting in which they were challenged on various aspects of the Swansea Skyline project by a member of the public, Ben Houghton.
Mr Houghton asked a number of detailed questions, such as how a designated quiet area on the hill, which overlooks Swansea Bay, would be preserved if the development went ahead and how public access would be affected.
He also queried the official visitor number estimate for the private sector project, its economic impact and carbon footprint. Mr Houghton claimed a majority of people who had responded to local surveys opposed rather than supported the development. “How does cabinet address this?” he said.
A New Zealand-based company, Skyline Enterprises, has submitted a planning application to the council for the attraction, featuring a gondola ride, downhill karting – known as luge – a zipline which can go round corners, a sky swing, hilltop restaurant and bar, picnicking areas, and enhanced mountain biking and walking trails.
The scrutiny panel meeting heard that new parks would be created on the hill as a result of feedback from a public consultation this year. This, along with inflation, were among the reasons that the £35 million project cost has now risen to £40 million.
Council leader Rob Stewart said he could not respond to some of Mr Houghton’s questions because there were strict rules now that the company’s planning application was live. He advised Mr Houghton to direct them to Skyline Enteprises or the council’s planning committee.
“It’s not us avoiding the questions – it’s about them going to the right body or committee to address them,” said Cllr Stewart.
He added that the proposed disposal of land for Swansea Skyline might turn into a legal matter as a result of a challenge. On the question of public sentiment about the development, Cllr Stewart said some people may not want to see it go ahead but that there was “overwhelming support from the people of Swansea”.
A report before the panel said the council received a direct approach in 2017 from Skyline Enterprises, which runs tourism attractions in four countries, to create one at Kilvey Hill. Political support, said the report, was significant.
The plans show how visitors would pick up a gondola from a base station with 270 parking spaces at the former Hafod-Morfa Copperworks site and ride up the 193m hill to the attractions at the top. The gondola would be accessible to mums and dads with prams and wheelchair users.
There would be three luge tracks ending midway down the hill, with a chairlift bringing people back to the top. Free and unhindered public access to the hill would remain.
The applicant is Swansea Skyline Ltd, one of whose directors – businessman Nigel Short – is also a director of the company behind the new Penderyn distillery and visitor centre at the old Hafod-Morfa Copperworks. Skyline Enterprises is a parent company to Swansea Skyline Ltd and will act as guarantor.
Cllr Robert Francis-Davies, cabinet member for investment, regeneration, events and tourism, said he believed Skyline would be a major tourism asset for Swansea – a sector he said was worth £500 million-plus to the county per year.
He said the gondolas proposed as part of the project were commonplace in countries such as Austria, Italy and France and were well used, not just by skiers.
He added that the projected visitor numbers of 450,000 per year had come from Skyline Enterprises, and that one of its attractions in South Korea had reached its visitor projections ahead of time.
He said: “They would not invest the money unless they were pretty certain of getting these figures.”
He added: “I’m really looking forward to it, and the people I have talked to – and I have spoken to many different organisations – I have had nobody challenging me on whether it’s the right thing to do.”
Cllr Stewart said Kilvey Hill was currently inaccessible for many people, and that Skyline would complement Swansea Arena and other leisure projects in the city. “I really would like to see this development happen,” he said.
Skyline Enterprises has estimated that the scheme would create 80-plus permanent jobs in its first year of operation and contribute £84 million to the local economy over the next 15 years.
The Welsh Government has said it would invest £4 million in the project, subject to conditions being met, with £1 million of that sum repayable. The council has approved funding of £8 million in principle, but said it would get this back in full as part of a commercial agreement with Skyline Enterprises.
Cllr Stewart said the authority’s plan to “co-invest” replicated many of its investments in the city – namely to provide capital which was then repaid. “We do this all the time in the city centre,” he said.
Before the panel went into closed session to discuss the project in more detail, Cllr Stewart said there would be impacts for the Penderyn whisky attraction and wider plans to regenerate the River Tawe corridor if it didn’t go ahead. “It would be a major tourism blow,” he said.